Investigating ROS sources in male infertility: A common end for numerous pathways
Lavranos, Giagkos M.
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Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are active byproducts of aerobic metabolism. Although they are constantly produced during normal cellular activities in the mitochondria, their action is counteracted by inherent antioxidant systems. This equilibrium is distorted in the case of acute or chronic inflammation, which results in increased ROS production and, ultimately, oxidative stress. In sperm, ROS are produced by both spermatozoa and circulating leucocytes and may be part of normal adaptive reactions, such as the capacitation process. However, a number of external toxicants may also contribute to ROS production in the testis and epididymis, leading to a decrease in sperm viability and motility and, therefore, an increased onset of the male factor of infertility. Such pro-oxidative conditions include, among others, exposure to radiation, extreme temperature, certain drugs, toxins, heavy metals, smoking and biological hazards. The current review paper summarizes the available evidence incriminating ROS and oxidative stress as the underlying pathophysiological mechanism leading to the onset of reproductive toxicity in each of these settings.